Real Humans of MBA Students: Stanford GSB Class of 2023
Peter Coutoulas, Stanford GSB MBA Class of 2023
Hometown: Evander, South Africa
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Pretoria – B. Com Investment Management; B. Com (Hons) Investment Management; M. Com Financial Management Sciences
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Consulting ~ 1.5 years; Investment Banking ~ 3 years; Financial Services ~ 5 years
Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
During my time at university, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program in the United States, where I was placed at a consulting firm as a summer intern. One of the partners at the firm took me out to lunch. He told me a number of stories, but the one that stuck in my head was about his experience at business school. Going to business school, he said, had changed his life, not only professionally, but personally as well. He spoke about how he was able to use the MBA to pivot careers and used the two years to understand where he was most effective and what career was meaningful to him – ultimately, he figured out “what matters most to him and why.” This was exactly five years before my admission into Stanford. It took me five years to finally act on that advice because I felt I had worked at a number of amazing firms, but I needed to take the next step to align my career with my ambition of making an impact. I felt business school was the perfect environment to give me the space – and equip me with the tools – to explore and dream about how I wanted to make an impact in this world.
Why did you choose Stanford GSB? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
From day one, Stanford was my dream school but once the admissions decisions came in, I felt I needed to weigh up the decision more rationally. For me, earning an MBA was about allowing myself the chance to act on all the talents, ambitions, and ideas I had to create a life of purpose. Firstly, I wanted a place that pushed me to reimagine the future not only for myself but also for others around me. Secondly, I wanted to be part of a community, not solely a network. The more I spoke to alumni and current students the more the decision became absolutely clear that my initial dream school, Stanford, was exactly what I was looking for. Stanford felt like a special place that was dedicated as the quote which is inscribed on the cornerstone of the GSB states: “dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up.” Every alumnus and student I spoke with exuded an innate vision to want to reinvent the world for the better in their own unique ways. Most importantly, it felt like a community that would support me not for the sake of professional advancement but out of a sense of caring for each other.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
I have worked across 22 African countries and the ability to bring this perspective into class discussions helps create more robust and nuanced discussions about emerging markets. Furthermore, being a first-generation student, I find that providing my perspective on how business decisions impact people at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder creates a space for classmates to consider a much wider context because there’s no substitute for having a classmate who’s lived through that exact experience.
Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I once painted and sold over 1,000 rocks which I had branded as ‘pet’ rocks.
Post-MBA career interests:
Finding a role at the intersection of finance and technology which allows me to improve as many lives as possible.
Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
I carried around a notebook with me and would jot down questions, stories, and/or ideas that I wanted to reflect on later. They weren’t necessarily answering admissions questions but were helping to reflect on what I wanted to do with an MBA. I would revisit the notebook every couple of weeks and reflect on what I had written which helped me clarify where I had been and where I wanted to go.
–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I didn’t give myself enough time to incorporate advice from alumni. I received amazing advice from alumni which shifted my perspective multiple times on what I could achieve during and post-MBA. I would advise anyone to have those conversations as early as possible because when you’re exposed to someone who’s achieved what you think is impossible, it shifts the horizons of your dreams.
–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT. I kept reminding myself how life changing this experience would be not only for myself but also for everyone who relied on me. I stayed motivated by watching videos of college “decisions reactions” and imagined the feeling of being admitted. I also love motivational videos and one of my favorites is Eric Thomas who said: “Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour or a day, or even a year. But eventually, it will subside. And something else takes its place. You are already in pain, you already hurt. Get a reward from it.”
What is your initial impression of the Stanford GSB students/culture/community?
I have been blown away by how vulnerable people are willing to be with each other. The Stanford GSB fosters a culture of being vulnerable and authentic in order to help you grow as a leader.
What is one thing you have learned about Stanford GSB that has surprised you?
How open and casual everyone is from global CEOs to classmates. I have been surprised by how willing people are to share their time with you. I have definitely come overprepared and overdressed, which at Stanford is any shirt with buttons on it, for a coffee chat with a business leader.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
I was fortunate to be in the privileged position of working from home during the pandemic which gave me the opportunity to put more time into my application.
What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
How to stay true to my initial goal of exploring ways to reimagine the future not only for me but also for others around me in the face of so many exciting opportunities.
What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I’m most excited by the prospect of following Phil Knight’s words – which are inscribed in the GSB Town Square: “There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun.” – Philip H. Knight (Stanford MBA 1962).